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High-level Push Continues for Iran Nuclear Deal

By Mary Alice Salinas, VOA

The negotiations Challenge
(cartoon by Hadi Heidari, Iranian daily Shahrvand)

VIENNA- The high-level diplomatic efforts to finally seal a comprehensive international agreement on Iran's nuclear program continued on several fronts Thursday, with one day left before the newest, and perhaps final, self-imposed deadline.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two sides are "on the verge" of an agreement.

"Right now (in the Iran nuclear negotiations), on the basis of the principles of gradualism and reciprocity, we have come close to a final agreement, it is within the bounds of the attainable,” Lavrov said.

But he also spoke about what has been seen as the biggest remaining issue to reaching a deal, saying Russia favors Iran's push to get a U.N. arms embargo lifted.

"We are advocating for lifting of the arms embargo as soon as possible," he said.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

"Even more so, as Iran as we have all now see is a dedicated supporter of the fight against Islamic State and of clearing the region and the rest of the world of this threat. Lifting of the arms embargo would help Iran to raise its military capabilities in fighting against terrorism," Lavrov added.

Western officials have said they opposed ending the embargo and that the issue should not be part of these negotiations. The basic outline of an agreement would lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limiting the country's nuclear activity.

Lavrov said he planned to return to Vienna from Russia, where he and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi traveled for a summit.

Foreign ministers

A U.S. source close to the talks told VOA that all of the foreign ministers do not have to be physically present in Vienna to seal an agreement, but that the source would "imagine they would want to be."

The other foreign ministers from the group that includes the United States, Britain, France and Germany met for an hour Thursday morning in Vienna, along with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and officials from Russia and China.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry then met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (R) during negotiations with the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi. (photo by Mostafa Ghotbi, Islamic Republic News Agency)

Meanwhile, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi expressed hope before their separate talks Thursday that the process was coming to a close.

"We're going to resolve the last issues, if we can," Moniz said, while Salehi told reporters he hoped Thursday was the "last day."

The two sides entered the week with a Tuesday deadline, but agreed to push that back until Friday.

A Western diplomat said late Tuesday that the negotiations are not "open ended," and had been extended for the last time.

Iran's chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, said the process would continue “as long as it is necessary.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with fellow foreign ministers, political directors and Iranian delegation at a P5+1 group session at Iranian nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Austria.
(photo by Mostafa Ghotbi, Islamic Republic News Agency)

Obama, Kerry talk

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said President Barack Obama spoke to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary Moniz after Wednesday's meetings and that he "provided guidance" on reaching a "good deal."

Also Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country is preparing for a "post-sanctions" era in reference to the plan to ease and eventually lift the measures put in place against Iran in response to suspicions the country was developing nuclear weapons.

Western countries accuse Iran of seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons, while Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes, such as medical research and generating power.

Chris Hannas contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from AP.

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